Higher fares, cuts in services, longer standing times, hiving off the most profitable routes, station closures, fewer direct routes, and a ban on the consumption of alcohol.These proposals are contained in the SNP Holyrood government’s consultation paper on the future of the rail network in Scotland, published last week as the first stage in preparing for the re-franchising of ScotRail in 2014.
Before this year’s Holyrood elections, the SNP pledged that annual fare increases would not be higher than RPI plus 1%. But last week’s consultation paper suggests increases of RPI plus 3%.
Caps on fares on inter-city routes, the consultation paper continues, should be scrapped completely (because “market forces” would supposedly ensure that fares were kept down).
The paper also suggests above-average fare increases on railway routes where there has been significant investment, on the basis that the travellers who benefit from the investments should pay for them, rather than the public in general.
Another of the paper’s proposals is to scrap the current requirement that passengers should have a “reasonable expectation” of getting a seat within ten minutes of departure.
This is because the crucial consideration, according to the paper, should not be whether or not passengers obtain a seat, but rather increasing the number of people who can be carried on a train.
Whereas cross-border services currently end in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness or Aberdeen, the paper argues the supposed case for ending all cross-border services in Edinburgh, with passengers wishing to travel further north (or west to Glasgow) switching over to Scottish-run trains.
At the moment all train services in Scotland (apart from cross-border services) are run by a single franchisee (currently: First Group). The consultation paper, however, raises the idea of putting the most profitable routes (most obviously: the Glasgow-Edinburgh line) out to tender separately.
This would allow private operators to cherry-pick the most profitable routes. Profits would therefore go into the pockets of those operators, rather than subsidising the unprofitable, but socially necessary, routes. Passengers and the public would be left to pick up the tab for them.
(At the least the SNP are being consistent. Their plans for the future of Scottish ferry services involve provision for ‘cherry-picking’ the most profitable ferry services as well).
The consultation paper denies any intention of cutting the total number of train stations in Scotland. But it does propose “attuning” them, on the basis that too many of them are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Attuning” stations is linked to the consultation paper’s proposals for increasing the number of “interchange” stations. According to the paper, long direct routes in Scotland are underused. They should therefore be replaced by a succession of shorter services, linking up with another at so-called “interchange” stations.
Going even further than the current fragmentation of the rail industry resulting from the Tories’ privatisation of 1993, the paper proposes that the franchisee who runs Scottish train services and stations should be allowed to contract out the running of the stations to a third party.
Finally, the paper proposes a complete ban on the consumption of alcohol on trains in Scotland. The SNP, it would seem, believe that the people of Scotland have the right to decide the destiny of their country – but they can’t be trusted to have a drink on a train.
The SNP used to promise that it would restore the railways in Scotland to public ownership. Alternatively, at a minimum it promised that the railways would be run on a not-for-profit basis.
But now their consultation paper encourages the next franchisee to make more money where possible, subject only to the qualification that the “ScotRail brand” should not be compromised.
In the foreword to the consultation paper SNP Transport Minister Keith Brown writes that the SNP’s aim is to create a railway system which “incorporates the best private sector attributes with the ethos of public service.”
Keith Brown is a former Unison full-timer. Did he never notice the inherent conflict between “private sector attributes” and “public service ethos”?